21 November, 2010

Things I would tell my 17-year-old self


Before the world lost Michael Silber and I lost Dad, before Scotland,
London,
Damian,
college,
the 'glittering' West End,
Andrew Lloyd Webber,
Hodel,
Julie Jordan 
or 'Alexandra Silber'  —
     there was just Al.
Seventeen.
With everything ahead of her.

Here are things I would love to tell her now... 

1. It is all ahead of you. . .

2. You are not fat

3. Enjoy the Interlochen magic while you can.

4. The friends you have right now? Yeah. They are incredible. And you will seriously be friends with them ten years from now. You will meet in many countries, cities, in many states of life, and in a few months they will all absolutely blow your mind with loyalty and resilience no 17-or-18-year-olds should rightly possess.

5. Never stop writing to Lady Chu.

6. Frizz-ease. Buy it.

7. You're going to get many many letters from people about how much you and your entire family meant to them.

8. Someday day, A and S will apologize to you. A will pour her heart out in a bar and S will stop you in the streets of London and look you straight in the eyes with her sincerity. But K will not remember. That is okay. All of it will teach you many, many things.

9. Wear sunscreen. ALL. THE. TIME.

10. Someday, you are going to meet Sheldon Harnick. And it will be magical. And for good. Then you will meet John Kander. And Chita Rivera. And Jason Alexander. And Tyne Daly. And Terrence McNally... and they will become your friends and colleagues. You will know the moment when you have arrived. You will be right where you belong.

11. Wear anything you want. Because you can.

12. Don't allow people to pressure you into dulling your colors (or colours) to make them comfortable.

13. You are not going to believe this but you do not know everything. Also, your parents are right. About a lot of things.

14. There is life after not going to Julliard. An amazing fracking life.

15. You are going to eat an omelet in one year. You will be alone. It will be four days before you leave for Scotland in an unfamiliar diner. There will be no need to let this moment haunt you because someday you will feel the thrill of overcoming it. Someday, this omelet will represent a great victory and be the symbol of serious growth and understanding.

16. Keep writing.

17. When your Mom offers to teach you how to sew, do not blow her off.

18. He will be unbelievable—he will exceed every possible expectation of what a young man of 17 should be able to handle. More people should be like him... Al? You have three months. Just that. Three months before your beautiful, tender romance that is currently bursting and full of every joy, every pleasure of spring and of magical, hopeful youth will soon turn very, very dark and serious. But he will stay, for years. And he will hold you, and stand by you, and you will grow up together. You will give to one another and advance through this crucial time in both of your lives. Never stop feeling grateful. Never stop thanking him. Never forget how you loved him or, indeed, how he loved you. And although he is not The One, no one else could have been better right at this moment. Forgive yourself. And never forget him.

19. David and Robin? These teachers are the real thing. They will teach you how to choose your family—and though you probably won't believe this now, that lesson is even more valuable than Shakespeare or Chekhov.

20. That thing you are all working so hard to prevent? It is going to happen. Soon. Enjoy this last year. Go on a lot of walks with him, ask for more stories, remember his eyes and his smell. What seems like always and forever will very soon be gone.

21. ...and seriously. Buy Frizz-Ease.

22. Fortune favors the brave. And you are. Braver than you think.

...as we liked it...in 2001...

17 November, 2010

The Laundry Line

It was funny what happened with clothing.

Sarah, the eldest, would get new clothes as she grew, and Shura of course, despite the difference in their heights and shapes, always got her hand-me-downs that tugged at her and fit her so poorly they had to be completely re-tailored. After the wear and tear of two children, the clothing was often too worn out for Eva, so she would also get new clothes. Shura understood the importance of frugality by sharing clothing, but she so rarely had anything new that was ever just hers— including shoes, which she found frustrating.

Thus, they had their roles. Her family. Her sisters. She was not certain any one of them had necessarily chosen these mantles, it just ended up that way.  She thought of them now.  She had been there what felt like only moments ago.

Second-born and nearly three-and-a-half years younger than her elder sister Sarah, Shura was born in the middle of a scorching summer. “Perhaps that is what made her so fiery,” her mother would tease though Shura’s fire was no joke. Shura was The Proud One. The One With the Quick Tongue. The One Just Like Her Mother— all of these roles got her into trouble— trouble she gave right back to anyone who crossed her. But that fire came from a longing ache inside, a painful disconnect.

She felt passed over, quite frequently, because Sarah commanded a lot of attention as the eldest, the homemaker, the first to wed— and Eva needed a lot of seeing-to (not least because she was such a dreamer, not to mention less skilled in all things homemaking, as well as “the baby.” She had not a hope there!)

So Shura often fended for herself.

It certainly didn’t aide in her assimilation that her other role, The Tall One, made her more conspicuous to any outward eye. Her mother and sisters were small women, sturdy and strong but with compact frames that bespoke humility. Shura’s height made her feel isolated and left out. She physically did not feel a part of her family and people endlessly commented upon it. A langer lucksh they would call her, a tall person, a long noodle.

People would joke, “how could this creature ever have come out of so diminutive a Mother?!” but the truth was Shura had always been long and lean, with slight feminine curves long before womanhood and a height established well before the age of twelve. Her father was a towering man, and Shura would almost have met his stature if it weren’t for her inherent slouchy-ness— a symptom, doubtless, of her colossal insecurity regarding the matter. For a long while, no one could see the developing curve of her breast, or the dainty curve from her waist to her hip, so hunched was she over her center.

One day her mother took her aside and gave her several baskets of linens to hang in the yard for drying.

“These are for you and you alone,” her mother instructed, “and come find me when you are done.”

Shura heaved the heavy baskets into the yard, and glancing upward was filled with the most glorious sight she had ever seen— new laundry lines hung from the amongst the higher branches of the trees, crisscrossing one another like the flight patterns of birds. The clean, white lines heralding hope and ascension. At the bases of the trees stood three little footstools, each one employed earlier in the day by her mother and sisters.

It was a reason to stand tall.

She brought one corner of the freshly washed linen to the newly lifted line and clasped it tightly with a clothes pin. She moved along and clasped the other and stood back. She watched as the wind lifted the sheet clear off the ground, cracking the fabric in the air with each gust.

And as she watched she felt her body lift—her head at first, her back lengthened, her legs taught, her gaze firm, then finally, her shoulders rolled back revealing her chest, her very heart to the gusty chalk-colored sky, her eyes locked on the linen—a flag of pride.

“All done, yes?” her mother inquired as Shura brought the empty baskets back inside.
“Yes, Mama.”
“Good,” replied Mama, not looking up from her chopping board.
“Done,” Shura added quietly, “with all of that...”

Mama continued her work— efficient, fastidious. Clean strokes and expert motions seemingly transformed whole vegetables into diced colorful cubes in what appeared to be moments.

“I thought as much,” she said, relieving the chopping board of it’s contents, “I hoped…” and at once, Mama stopped, looked up at Shura adding firmly, “it will not do for us to have the bottoms of our linens soiled because the lines were not high enough. We must aim them a bit higher, mustn’t we?”
“Yes Mama.”
“Good. A leben ahf dir. [1]

Mama moved closer to her daughter and gazed upward into her face. Her expression grave but still they shared a smile, exchanging warmth from each of their deep brown eyes.

Their fires were so alike.

Ver volt dos geglaibt? [2]” she muttered nodding, “Now come help me with this stock.”

Shura stood tall evermore.




[1] You should live! And be well!
[2] Who would’ve believed it?

12 November, 2010

The day-making Nancy Opel Facebook thread

Background conversation that took place a few months ago:

Nancy Opel: Facebook is great.

Al: Yeah... I kinda love it too. It used to be such a great way for me to feel connected from London with everyone back home. Now it serves the same function the other way around. Plus, I love that you can just think of someone and instantly, for free, let them know.

Nancy: Love.

Al: Wait, question: how is it that you have like four thousand friends?

Nancy:  I friend everyone on Facebook. EV-RY-ONE. I like thinking I having more friends than anyone else on Facebook. It feels great. The only people I ignore are people who friend me from like, a remote island pictured in a canoe or something. That's where I draw the line.

Al: ...A canoe? That is your line? That's not a terribly discerning line...

Nancy: ... [pause] ...I know... It is the line I use nonetheless...

*

Facebook status:

Nancy Opel globe-trotting photo dweeb.

Comments:
Alexandra Silber:  -  I THINK YOU ROCK.
o
Nancy Opel:  -  mwah. I want to take your picture.
o
Alexandra Silber: ‎  -  1. let's! although I'm not very photogenic 2. can we do a few shots... in a canoe . . . ? 3. mwah back
o
Nancy Opel:  -- doing a few shots in a canoe sounds potentially dangerous, with or without a camera....;)
o
Alexandra Silber: ‎...but what if i made it my profile pic? (Enticing?) -- or wait! would you de-friend me?! ;)
o
Alexandra Silber: - PS) tequila shots in the canoe, then photos OF the canoe after... no danger. Oh no. Only good times. Very very good times.
o
Nancy Opel: - I took Miss Baldwin's pic that she used as her profile pic for quite some time, I'm proud to say...took it the day we left for London. And disenfriendment is an unlikely possibility...
o
Nancy Opel: - but will the canoe be ON WATER?...because it does sound like fun.
o
Alexandra Silber: - let's DO it Opel. You are on! Then we can go to Shake Shack after....
o
Nancy Opel: -  SHAKE SHAAAAAAAAAAAACK......the magic words. MY magic words.
o
Alexandra Silber: - Oh yes the canoe WILL be on the water.
o
Alexandra Silber: - PS) this thread is making my day. x
o
Nancy Opel: - Yeah, me too.


Response: Alexandra Silber likes this.

06 November, 2010

The Dying Plant

"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
Sometimes you surprise yourself.

So Comrade Baker (aka Kit) works for a very interesting company called Aperture-- a nonprofit foundation dedicated to promoting photography. (Do, click on the link and read more about them).

*

Kit invited me to Aperture's annual benefit gala last Monday at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers in New York (complete with silent and live auctions, scrumptious dinner and mingling with people you've never met before. By the way, I've found recently that galas are somewhat like weddings in this way, only you feel depressed about your finances rather than your love life...)
 
At table 24 was sat many a stranger, arty types with black-rimmed glasses, snappy t-shirts beneath velvet jacket and brightly colo(u)red dresses cut on super chic angles (but unlike actor events, these people ate bread). Kit was to my right, and after a long and moving discussion during the impossible-to-talk-over live auction that began with "we're going to ignore everyone and have a long and moving discussion aren't we?" and the subsequent "Uh, yes," we moved beyond; Kit mingling to the right, I to the left.

Beside me was an Aperture board member-- an beautiful older woman beautifully dressed in blue cape who began with "I've never met a chocolate sauce I didn't like!" before introducing herself "Toni-- I've always liked being a girl with boy's name." I smiled and extended my hand "I'm Al," and she smiled back.

Beside Toni was a Photographer, enjoying red wine and laughing with abandon--a true artist spirit emanated from every part of him! Eventually, we all began to speak about who we were, what we did. "I'm an actress," I admit.
"And a singer (among other things)," added Kit.
"Oh how wonderful!" the Toni chimes,
"Oh yes. I'd love to come hear you sometime-- I enjoy live music!" adds the Photographer.

Eventually, we discuss where we were originally from: Toni from Chicago, the Photographer from Los Angeles.
"But there is no city in the world like New York," Toni concluded.
"Mmm..." agreed the Photographer.
"I've only been in this city about a year," I join in, "but it's been wonderful so far. I've been in the UK for the last 8 years and grew up in Detroit."
"Oh!" cried the Photographer, "I was born in Detroit!" he leaned in closer, "but I left when I was six and have never been back. I'd like to go."
There was a polite and slightly awkward silence, as there often is when Detroit gets mentioned. People don't know what to say, what to offer, how to feel. Do they believe what they've heard? What they've seen in the media?
"I hear it is on the up!" Toni said, trying to be bright.
"Yes, I've heard that too," added the Photographer.

I think of Howard Barker's quote:

At the fall of the cities:
Why did we inhabit them?
Suddenly I was filled with a feeling-- a wave of desire to give voice to those awkward silences, to speak on behalf of a place whose roar has been reduced to a whisper, but has soul nonetheless. 

"I love Detroit..." I said simply. I didn't know how else to say it.
"She does," insisted Kit. He has heard me speak of this love so often.


"Did you know that Detroit's downtown is larger than Boston, San Francisco and Manhattan combined? And between 1945 to 1972 there was simply no better place in America to be. A place that was once this Titan of industry and culture, a place where people with nothing more than hope and basic skills could come and make a life in a free and prospering place, have a car, a home, build a life. Isn't that the American dream? A city that used it's then controversial cultural makeup as an asset to build a music industry where one did not even commercially exist before Motown changed the face of music in this country and abroad forever. I don't want to sound to melodramatic or grand, but in all truth it almost seems like Rome or Troy-- a booming Middle-American Metropolis now abandoned with decay and disregard for reasons no one can pin down. But despite every adversity, the people in that place are still some of the most industrious, warm, and spiritually generous I've ever come across. In times like these it would be understandable that people would turn inward, think to protect only themselves and their assets-- this is my family, my home, my life. But what I've found is people turning toward one another, helping one another, joining together. Thousands of young people flock there because they have the ability to start small businesses, art warehouses, buy homes, start lives. There is beauty there: a city with resilient, hardworking people. It's unspeakable. I'm so proud to be from a place like that..." I come up for air and everyone is staring at me. "It is hard to talk about..." I add.

And everyone went very quiet.

"But how could any individual help to revive a city in such distress?" asked the Photographer, quietly.

And in that moment, something suddenly came to me.  "You know," I began, "a friend of mine was recently dog-sitting in Hells Kitchen and the plant-sitter that had been asked to show up and take the plants for the fortnight forgot, and the poor plant was practically murdered right there in the front room. By the end of my friend's 10 day stay there the plant was wilted beyond repair.

'I think I'm just going to throw it away,' he said, sighing, shrugging, his heart breaking slightly, 'besides, it is bad chi to have it around...'
'I'll take it,' I said, holding up the poor little floundering plant in the light. 'I'll revive it.'

'Are you sure?' he asked, 'it looks pretty far gone. Perhaps it is just better to let it go and start again. I think I'll just get them a whole new plant.'
I don't know what made me smart at this.
I don't know why I was so moved.
I looked down at the little plant, feeling it's pain twice-- for those who had neglected it and those who didn't believe in it's ability to flourish after so profound a demise.
'Haven't you ever felt like that?' I asked him.
'Yes,' he said, eyes curious.
'Well, when you did, would you have wanted someone to give up on you?'
He lowered his deep brown eyes filled with infinite heart, and nodded with acute understanding. Then he handed me the plant, his every gesture wishing me luck...
...That is how I feel about Detroit."

The photographer stared at me a moment then, reaching across the table, he gripped my hand.

"I think I'd like to go there with you..." he said.

And he smiled through the thin veil of mist in his eyes, "and I'd like to come hear you sing," he added, squeezing my hand a little harder.

You just did, I think to myself, but merely meet his gaze and squeeze his hand in response.

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